February 16, 2023 | Injury

The REAL Welding Flash Burn Eyes Home Treatment

By Barrett Eubanks, M.D.

The REAL Welding Flash Burn Eyes Home Treatment

Having red painful eyes after welding? There is a good chance you got a welding flash burn; especially if you weren’t using a proper welding helmet to protect the eyes. Fortunately, there are some easy treatments you can do at home to make the eyes feel more comfortable and encourage recovery.

First off, what is a welding flash burn.

Welding arcs contain a very high amount of light. But not just the normal visible light that we see. It contains a very high amount of UV light. You know, the stuff which can burn your skin and give you a sunburn.

Turns out the same thing can happen on the eyes. When the eye is exposed to too much UV light, it gets a sunburn. But we call it something different. The technical term for it is called photokeratitis. And when it happens specifically due to welding, it is called arc eye or a flash burn.

So what happens when the cornea becomes sunburned?

Just like how we have skin on the rest of our body, the cornea of our eye has a “skin-like" layer called epithelium. This epithelium is very sensitive to ultraviolet light. It will absorb it and die off. Eventually new epithelial cells with grow and replace the dead ones, but in the meantime you will have symptoms: Pain, blurred vision, sensitivity to light.

You see, these epithelial cells cover and protect the most sensitive part of our body. When these cells die and slough off the cornea, the sensitive layers of the cornea become exposed and are painful!

There isn’t really anything you can do to make the eye heal faster, but there are things you can do at home to make the eyes more comfortable and also prevent a delay in healing.

But first off, there are some pretty crazy recommendations on what to do to treat a welding flash burn.

What NOT To Do

Some people think it’s a great idea to put food products all over the eyes. This is NOT a good idea.

The goal and purpose of putting things like potatoes, milk/cream, tea bags, banana pulp, cucumber slices on the eyes or eyelids is to cool the eyes. And cooling the eyes does have a benefit.

Ever go outside on a cold day and your fingers or toes get so cold that they go numb? Cold temperatures can reduce feeling and sensation. This same principle can be applied to the eyes. Cold temperature can reduce sensation on the eye making the flash burn feel much less uncomfortable. (and also reduce the buildup on inflammation on the eye by decreasing circulation around the eyes).

But there are MUCH better ways to do this than with food.

One key function of the epithelium is to protect our eye from infection. When this epithelium is damaged and broken down (such as during a welding flash burn), the eye is more susceptible to infection. Putting unclean food on the eyes is a good way to cause an infection.

Image of potato
Cook those potatoes instead of putting them on your eyes; image by Peter Schad on Unsplash

This Is What You Do

You know what can cool better than potatoes and cucumbers? An ice pack!

  1. Take a plastic bag, fill it with crushed ice and then place it on the eye. Better yet, you can use a dedicated cooling eye mask.
  2. Keep in place for roughly 20 minutes before removing. You don’t want things to become TOO cold.
  3. Repeat as needed throughout the day.

Making an ice pack or using a dedicated cooling eye mask will be much more sanitary than using food you have around your house.

Ice is great and simple and something you already have around your home. But there are more good ways to treat welding flash burns at home.

Eye ointment

As mentioned, the cornea is the most sensitive structure in our body. This makes flash burns exquisitely painful. Each blink of the eyelid grinds against the sensitive exposed cornea.

This pain can be reduced by adding an artificial protective barrier: an ointment.

Using an ointment does a few things.

  • It prevents the eyelid from rubbing against the cornea and causing as much pain. The ointment serves as a sort of cushion.
  • It keeps the eye from drying out. This reduces inflammation and promotes the fastest healing.

Look for a dedicated eye ointment such as Refresh PM. Eye ointments are clean and safe to use in the eyes. While Vaseline may seem like a good alternative, the trouble is you can’t be certain that it will be completely sterile and isn’t recommended.

After washing your hands, pull down your lower eyelid, take the ointment and place a thin strip (about half the size of a grain of rice) onto your eyelid. Blinking will then smear the ointment over the surface of your eye.

Eye ointments WILL blur the vision (because they provide a thick coat to the surface of the eye). If you want something thinner with less blurring of vision, look for gel-based eye drops. These will still coat the eye well but just won’t be as thick.

Take out any contact lenses

Having contact lenses in the eye can contribute to more the inflammation and irritation in the eye. In addition, contact lenses can also increase the risk of infection when the eye is damaged. Discontinue them until the eye feels healthy again.


When the cornea is irritated, it can be more sensitive to light. Bright lights may be uncomfortable or painful. So, to keep bright lights from hitting the eyes, put on a pair of sunglasses. As a bonus, it will also keep more UV light from injuring the eyes.

OTC pain meds

Finally, you may find some benefit by taking an NSAID medication such as ibuprofen. While it won’t eliminate the pain, it may make the eye feel a little more tolerable (especially in combination with the above recommendations).

Visit the doctor if you aren’t getting better

Welding flash burns will heal quickly. Within about 24-48 hours, your eyes should be back to normal. If your eyes aren’t getting any better or are getting worse, it’s time to have an eye doctor take a look at your eyes.


There are some really bizarre and bad recommendations out there on how to treat a welding flash burn. But there are much better ways to treat the eyes at home. Using an ointment can provide a significant improvement in comfort. In addition, ice packs or cooling masks, sunglasses and over the counter medication can also provide relief.

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